A Different Perspective

Long Path, an earth pony living in Canterlot, and his best friend, a griffon named Free Agent, set out in the company of Twilight Sparkle to visit various places and species to look into what makes them different, and hopefully learn how to get along with them better. Things rarely go to plan though, and along the way, they discover things about themselves, and find love, drama, and laughter. Then Chrysalis changes everything, and the fate of the whole world might be at stake. Their lives will never be the same!
This story is set mostly after the events of Conversations in a Canterlot Cafe and builds on the fanon of the series, especially changelings, so you might want to read those stories first for background material.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/246414/a-different-perspective

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18. Chapter 15: Like Sand Through An Hourglass...

“What has your day been like?” Roseclaw asked her mate as they walked together to the castle’s dining hall.

Path gave her a rueful smile. “When Warfist won Razorbeak’s possessions, it was a huge boost to our resources, but a massive headache for me and Raza. I’m glad we’ve got Proper Place to help us sort it all out. He might have been thrust upon us, but Dianthia at least gave us competent help.”

“He has a pleasant personality also, although I suppose that would not be unusual for his kind. Nevertheless, I think he’s an asset to our House. Fortunately we won’t be needing him to teach his fighting skills too soon, so he can concentrate on the administrative duties.”

“How are the classes coming along then?”

“I’m very pleased with the classes for the young pony foals – so many of them are eager to learn. The older ones are having a harder time because of the slave indoctrination and lack of early education, but I have paired them with griff students to help them out. I have made it clear to the griffs that they would be also judged on their ability to integrate ponies with griffs in our House.”

Path nodded. “The first and most important lesson must always be that the House of Path is a family, and if they can’t learn that, then they don’t belong with us. One of these years, a griff might depend on his pony brother to save his life, and then there must not be a moment’s hesitation.”

“It would be good if we could get more species involved as soon as possible for that very reason,” Roseclaw pointed out.

Path shrugged. “Yes it would, but right now I’ve got my hooves full just trying to deal with those that we have already. However, Raza had an idea to post advertisements at the docks, and spread the word through the crews of the trading ships. I’m working on a recruiting drive in Equestria, especially for unicorns and pegasi. Maybe even get the attention of some thestrals.”

“It’s a pity that you never got around to checking out the thestral town that you told me about.”

“The Thestral Grand Colony is still on the list of places that we will visit someday. Our original mission is postponed, not cancelled. I see it as parallel to what we’re achieving here with the House. Originally we set out to learn more about the perspectives of other species so that we can learn to be better friends. Here we’ve started actually putting that into practice already. It’s a lot sooner than I ever dreamed it could happen, but we’ve had some amazing good luck.”

“And some bad too,” Roseclaw reminded him.

“Yeah, but it’s worked out for the most part. I hope Twilight comes to her senses and puts Free out of his misery though. He’s been a bit of downer to all of us.”

Roseclaw examined Path’s face for a moment. “And yet you seem a lot more cheerful than you have been for the past few days, despite everything.”

Path nodded. “It’s an odd thing, but a short while ago I just started feeling happy for no apparent reason. Sure, I was enjoying the work despite how much there is to do, but it’s not the kind of thing to put me in such a positive frame of mind.”

“I’ll take it, whatever the cause.” She leaned up against him as they walked down the passageway. “Puts me more in the mood.”

Path grinned and kissed her on the cheek. “Heh! Me too.”

Dinner was ready to be served as soon as they reached the dining hall, but they waited a little while for Free to turn up. Blue Streak was already there, and they chatted with him about his day. Path was taking a special interest in Streak and, as the colt had no parents, he decided to mentor Streak personally. Part of that was having the colt come for dinner at the castle and discuss what had been learned that day.

However, when after nearly a quarter hour had passed and Free was still a no-show, Path got up and said, “Free could be feeling more depressed than usual, and not hungry. I’ll go check up on him.”

A knock on Free’s door elicited a quiet ‘Come in’, and Path entered. He found the griffon seated at his easel, with lamps set up to illuminate his subject. Path’s eyes widened in surprise when he spotted the striped mane. “Is that Twilight? When did she get here? How did she get here?” he asked in hushed tones.

Free gave him the happiest grin Path had seen in far too long. “She got here less than an hour ago. Would you believe she teleported and flew all the way over the ocean?”

“That’s amazing. No wonder I heard nothing about it. Is she back to normal then?”

“She’s back to her adorkable self. She even wrote an essay to prove it,” Free said as he pointed it out still lying on the floor where he had tossed it.

Path picked it up and glanced at it, snorting in amusement at the title page. “So, did this explain everything?”

Free shrugged. “I didn’t read it. I didn’t care because she came back to me, Path. I hardly dared hope, but she nearly killed herself to be with me. I should be angry with her for what she accused me of, but I don’t care. She’s here now where she belongs.”

“It’s dinner time, Free; do you think she would want to join us?”

“I don’t think you could wake her up right now. She barely made it here, and she’s wiped out.”

“I see you’ve started painting her portrait.”

“I want to capture this moment. I’m so happy and inspired right now.”

“Huh! Y’know, I think I felt the moment that you and Twilight reconciled. Suddenly I felt in a very good mood for no specific reason.”

Free looked a little chagrined. “If the past few days have taught us anything, Path, it’s that you and I share a close bond. For the most part, it’s been a good thing, but occasionally it’s backfired on you. I don’t believe you would have been hit so hard by the death of that deer if I hadn’t been absent. On the other hand, I don’t know if you wouldn’t have made the big step and become Rose’s mate either.”

Path reached up to put a hoof on Free’s shoulder. “Free, I don’t care if that bond has caused us some trouble. I am proud to call you my brother, and I’m glad to have you sharing my life. I’m just glad that we’re all back together again.”

“Believe me, I am too.”

“I guess you don’t want to leave Twilight at this time. Want me to send food up?”

“That would be great, thanks.”

“It’ll be here soon.” Path turned to head out, taking Twilight’s essay with him. “Talk to you both tomorrow.”

# # #

Twilight pried one eyelid open, wincing a bit at the bright sunshine pouring through the window. She looked around and noticed a tray of food left beside the bed, the aroma of which had woken her up. She propped herself up on the pillow and looked around, wondering exactly where she was. Wherever it was, it was pretty fancy. Considering that her last memories were of flying to Path’s castle, she supposed that it was most likely a bedroom in there. Wait… not quite the last memories… something about the bed… our bed?

The memories started flowing back, just as Free entered the room, carrying a large pot of coffee.

“Good morning, sleepyhead. Breakfast is served.”

Twilight’s eyes snapped wide open and her face lit up in delight. She leaped out of bed, rushed over to Free, and hugged the stuffing out of him, nearly causing him to spill the pot of coffee.

“It wasn’t a dream! I made it, and you took me back. I love you!” She started kissing Free profusely.

“Whoa, girl! It’ll be a nightmare if I spill this on you. Let me put the pot down first.”

Twilight only released Free enough to let him put the pot down safely before resuming her ardent display of affection. However, this time Free was a willing participant. Eventually though, he gently pried her off and pointed her towards the food.

“Eat! I didn’t haul this here for it to get cold.”

Twilight was suddenly reminded that she was hungry, and willingly tucked into the food, while Free poured a large mug of coffee for her, and then another for himself.

“How long was I asleep?” Twilight asked between bites.

“Oh, about thirteen hours. You probably would have slept more, but I figured you wouldn’t want to waste more of the day.”

“Good heavens, no! I’ve got days to catch up on. I want to see everything that has been done since I left Griffonia. I want to meet the new members of the House. I want to see the students. I want to teach!”

“Whoa again, Sparkles!” Free said with a laugh. “We’ll get you into the groove soon enough. Concentrate on eating your breakfast so that we can go see Path and Rose. They’re eager to see you too, y’know?”

“Right! Food now!” She resumed eating in an enthusiastic and very unprincesslike manner.

“Hmmm, maybe a shower next. Darling, you worked up a sweat yesterday.”

Twilight stopped eating long enough to ask, “Will you scrub my back?”

Free grinned. “Sparkles, I was hoping you’d ask.”

# # #

“… and after I got a good sleep and a big breakfast, I was ready to leave at sunrise.”

“How could you be sure that even that much preparation would be enough to get you over the ocean, Twilight?” Path asked.

“I honestly didn’t know for sure. It was terribly impulsive of me, but I was so desperate to get back to Griffonia to see you all – to see Free again and ask him to forgive me.” Twilight tightened her embrace of the griffon. Throughout relating her experiences since they parted company at the hive, she had been hugging Free as if she was afraid that he would change his mind and leave.

“But you did make it. Free says that you combined teleporting and gliding?” Path asked.

Roseclaw said, “That makes sense; griffons will resort to energy-saving gliding on thermals while hunting for prey, so that would be the most efficient way to conserve power for teleporting.”

Twilight nodded vigorously. “Roseclaw has it exactly right. I knew that if I did nothing but a continuous series of teleports, I would run out of energy halfway there. So after teleporting as far eastwards as I could without over-straining myself, and at the same time raising my altitude to my height ceiling, I could just use my wings to glide with little effort. The great altitude gave me a lot of glide time, and by then I was fully rested and teleported again. However, the sheer number of teleports that I had to do eventually wore me out from mana drain. It’s a very good thing that I was able to get some rest on a cloud bank around midpoint.”

“It was still foolish. We could have sent the Skylark back for you,” Path chided her.

“Which would have taken at least a couple more days than I was prepared to wait, and frankly with my doubts about whether Free would want me anymore, I didn’t know if you would send it anyway.”

Free chuckled and said, “Twi, it’s a Royal Airship and you’re a princess – your commands would have overridden ours.”

“Still too slow,” she replied, poking her tongue out at him before snuggling him again. “Besides, that wasn’t the silliest mistake that I made coming over.”

“Oh? What was that?” Path asked.

“I took off due east, in the direction of the sun. In the middle of the ocean, it was an easy way to tell my direction. However, what happens closer to midday?”

Roseclaw shook her head in disbelief. “You lost your bearings because the sun was overhead!”

Twilight blushed. “Yes. I should have brought a compass. That was another reason why I rested on the cloud bank and the journey took longer than I had anticipated. I had to wait until the sun started lowering enough to be confident of direction again. I’m rather ashamed of my poor planning.”

“It was impulsive from the start,” Path agreed. “However, it also demonstrated how sincere you were in wanting to get back together with us, and we’re so happy to have you here.”

Twilight smiled happily. “I can confidently say that I’m where I belong. So, when do I get to meet the new House members?”

# # #

 

 

“And this is all the awesome equipment that Lord Path was able to get for me!” Techbird enthusiastically explained as she showed off her workshop. “After Warfist won his honor duel, the House had the resources to buy all this.”

Twilight grinned at her enthusiasm. “I gather that you already have some projects in mind?”

“I already had so many before I knew we would get the resources. I hardly know where to start!”

“I know that feeling. I hope you’ll share some of that equipment with me when I wish to pursue one of my own projects?”

“Oh, of course, Twilight! Maybe we can cooperate on an experiment or two also?”

“I think I’d like that. Since scientific research is my responsibility, you’ll be reporting to me anyway, so we can discuss any projects that you have in mind.”

“I’m so thrilled to have you here. I think you’re going to love what I have in store for you.”

“Techbird, I think that I have finally found someone who actually exceeds my own enthusiasm for science. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

“Oh, yes! Science should be fun, shouldn’t it?”

“Definitely! It’s even better if it has practical applications though, and with that in mind, I have a high priority task for you to have a look at.”

Techbird was immediately intrigued. “What’s that?”

“Faster intercontinental travel. While the Skylark is the fastest airship in the fleet, it still takes too long to get between Equestria and here. There have been plans in the works to build a faster model for quite a while, but there have been problems that have held up the design, and little priority on the need until now. I would like you to have a look at the designs with an eye to applying Griffonian engineering techniques, perhaps incorporated with Equestrian mana-powered engines.”

Techbird’s eyes lit up. “Ooh! That sounds like a challenge. How soon can I start?” she asked eagerly.

Twilight giggled. “Just as soon as I can get copies of the plans couriered over. I think you’ll have plenty to occupy your time meanwhile.”

The griffon looked a little disappointed, but she shrugged it off. “You’re right, I do. By the way, have you heard of the Puzzle?”

Twilight looked at her curiously. “Which puzzle?”

The Puzzle. The ultimate puzzling question.”

“No, but I think I’m going to enjoy finding out.”

# # #

“This is the class that I’m most proud of,” Path said quietly to Twilight as they stood in the doorway of the room filled with a mixture of pony foals and griffon chicks. A small griffon hen was patiently teaching them spelling and sentences. “We’re starting these foals education alongside their griffon peers, and it’s our goal to see them grow in full equality. They’re the future of ponykind in Griffonia, with the griffs growing up accepting ponies as a normal thing, and worthy of respect. Hopefully, slavery will eventually be nothing but a bad memory, and wars between us a thing of the past.”

Twilight was a little less optimistic. “History shows that it’s not that simple, Path.”

“I know. History also shows us that it’s our lack of understanding between species that starts some of those problems. This is my way of doing something about that. Education is just the beginning, but it’s the bedrock that is the foundation on which we will build.”

“I couldn’t agree more. I hope that you… no, we succeed.”

Path showed Twilight some of the other classes for the older students. The proportion of ponies to griffons dropped off sharply with age, but there was always at least one. “I’ve also started a mixed class teaching basic Equish which I am teaching. It’ll help a lot if the House members can all be at least bilingual. Fortunately the ponies haven’t forgotten all of their former language, so that gives them a head-start over the griffons.”

They moved onto another classes, and Twilight noticed something. “There seems to be more colts and fillies here than your description of Ravenwing’s herd indicated?”

“Surprisingly, we have a few ponies from other Houses. I never expected it, but some of the lords were interested in educating their slaves also. Of course they’re greatly in the minority, but it’s a start. I think they’re putting the onus on me to make this work, but I’m fine with that.”

“I’m proud of what you’re doing, no matter what the outcome.”

As they moved on, Path said, “There’s a favor that I want to ask of you if you have the time?”

“Sure! What is it?”

“When I was connected to the hive-mind back at the Green Hive, I acquired a great deal of knowledge as a consequence. However, I am having a lot of trouble sorting through it and organizing it in a useful fashion. I need someone to aid me in this, and I think that you’re best suited to the task.”

“That sounds like it could be fascinating. I’d be happy to help you. Once I’m completely settled in and have had a chance to make a proper schedule, I will make a timeslot for us to work on that.”

“Thanks, Twilight. I’m so glad that you’re back with us. There’s also that deal that I’m trying to broker with the king and nobles that needs your support.”

“The mutual defense pact in particular, you mean?”

“That’s the one.”

“I gave it a lot of thought back when you first mentioned it. I’ll write up a speech to present to the court, but I’ll let you and Quiet Words review it first. I suspect that it’s going to be no easy task to persuade the nobles to ally themselves with Equestria.”

“Yeah. Getting past the warrior mentality is going to be your biggest problem.”

“Or perhaps the key to success? The more years I have had as a princess, the more that I’ve realized how things can be turned to one’s advantage. Celestia has mastered this in her centuries of experience, but she’s not in a position to do this at this time, but we are. I’ll make this work, I promise.”

“I’ll be happy enough that you tried, Twilight.”

# # #

 

 

Warfist was quite formal in his greeting of Twilight. “It is an honor to meet you in person at last, Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you, General. I would be interested in spending some time with you to do some research on Griffonian history.”

“I am at your command, Your Highness.”

“Please, Warfist, here in the House, I am just Lady Twilight.”

“As you wish, milady.”

“I also wish to discuss battle techniques with you. While I have a lot of power at my command, fighting is not my forte, and if the aims of this House are to be achieved, I must remedy that.”

“Is there anything specific that you have in mind?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. I have a presentation to make to the king and nobles of the court, and I expect that it won’t go without challenge. While I will also be looking for a broader education, this is the most immediate need.”

“If you would like to arrange a time for me to assess your abilities, we can work on that for you.”

“I’ll let you know when I have my schedule made. I’m really looking forward to this, General.”

# # #

“Wow! Can I get wings like those too?” Blue Streak asked as he stared at Twilight’s feathered appendages.

“Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way, my little pony,” Twilight replied. Before she could explain further, Blue Streak changed his attention to something else.

“What’s that pointy thing on your head?”

“That’s a unicorn horn.” She looked at Free and asked, “Hasn’t he seen a unicorn before?”

“He’s only ever seen earth ponies. Wings and horns are a complete novelty to him.”

“What’s it for?” Blue Streak asked.

“I can do strong magic with it, like this.” She telekinetically lifted the colt a couple of meters up into the air.

“Whoa! I don’t need wings!” he exclaimed with a giggle.

“And I can make magic shields,” Twilight said as she formed a bubble of energy around herself. She lowered Blue Streak onto the top of the bubble, and the colt tapped experimentally on it with a hoof.

“Looks strong,” he commented.

Twilight was intrigued to sense the colt’s own earth pony magic vibrate through her magic field. ‘Quite a strong talent in this one,’ she mused. She picked up the colt and put him back on the ground. “I hear that you’re very fast. Let’s do a short race, and I’ll show you another trick that I can do.”

“Sure! Where to?”

“Just to that oak tree over there. Ready? Go!”

Blue Streak was off like a flash. Twilight powered up her horn and teleported over to the tree. She was shocked to see though that Blue Streak was almost to the tree already. She had barely beaten him in the time it took to power up the teleportation spell!

“Wow! That’s a cool trick!” Blue Streak exclaimed, unfazed at losing. “Wanna rematch? I think I can beat you.”

Twilight gaped in awe at the colt. ‘Scratch that – make that an extremely strong talent!’ “I believe you. I think I’m going to need a longer race, my young friend,” she said with a laugh. “Let’s give you a test against my wings this time.” She pointed to a statue that on the far side of the castle’s grounds that she could barely see even with her farsight. “Do you know the statue over there?”

“You mean the one on Ravenwing’s dad’s grave? Sure!”

Twilight had no idea what it was, but it was the only one in that direction. “I want you to race me over to there. Don’t hold back.”

“Is this a test?”

“Kind of. I like to study talented ponies like you.”

He grinned. “You ain’t seen nothing like me!” he said proudly, but without arrogance. He was just stating an obvious fact.

“That’s what I’m hoping, Streak,” Twilight replied, matching his grin. “Ready?”

“Of course!”

Twilight spread her wings. “Go!”

Blue Streak kicked up clods of dirt as he raced off while Twilight pumped her wings to take off and put on speed. She was not anywhere near as fast as Rainbow Dash, but she had considerably improved her speed over the years since gaining her wings. Nevertheless she quickly realized that she was not going to be able to catch up with the colt. However, winning the race was not her goal. She powered up her horn to scan Streak and she was amazed at what she found.

His earth pony magic is reinforcing his running ability in ways that I’ve never seen before! Normally it gives them great strength or stamina, but this seems to be translating mostly into great speed for him. Sweet Celestia! He’s stillaccelerating!

Twilight was losing ground as Streak’s speed kept increasing. The gap might have gotten even greater faster if the colt had not reached the statue and skidded to a halt. Moments later, Twilight landed beside him, and she noted that he was barely breathing hard.

“Congratulations, Streak, you beat me easily. You are quite the remarkable pony. Would you mind if I test you again in the future?”

“You think I can do better?”

“If you can go this fast at this age, I’m wondering what your speed limit will be as you get older.”

“Will you race me again?” he asked eagerly.

Twilight laughed. “If you wish, but you’re already faster than anything except my teleportation. Maybe I can persuade my friend, Rainbow Dash, to race you someday. She’s the fastest pegasus I know.”

“What’s a pegasus?”

“Oh! That’s a pony with wings like me, but no horn. She’s the only pegasus to ever do a sonic rainboom.”

What’s that?”

“That’s when she goes so fast, she breaks through the sound barrier.”

“Wow! I’m going to be the second pony to do that one day,” Blue Streak declared confidently.

Twilight opened her mouth to tell him that was impossible, only to stop herself as doubts hit. If what she had just witnessed was any indication, the young colt might just prove her wrong someday. Instead she said, “Would you like to see what it’s like to travel instantly with teleportation?”

“Heck yeah!”

The colt’s indomitable enthusiasm was infectious. “Okay, but just a warning – first time can make you feel a little queasy.” She powered up the teleportation spell for the two of them and bamfed over to where Free was patiently waiting for them.

“Yeehaa! That was awesome!” Streak exclaimed.

“Glad you enjoyed it. Do you feel okay?”

“I’m fine, Twilight.”

“That’s all for today, Streak. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Okay! Bye!” Streak left at his usual breakneck speed.

Free chuckled and said, “You’re going to regret showing him how you teleport.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because one day, he’s going to figure out how to go faster than that!”

Twilight stared at Free for a long moment before replying. “Y’know, you might just be right.”

# # #

“… I therefore conclude that I believe that the proposed mutual defense pact between our great nations will bring peace, prosperity, and glory to us all. I await your decision.”

Twilight had to put the speech before the King’s Council as the most nerve-wracking of her career. The unrelenting and generally hostile reception that she had been given was not unexpected though, and she had been braced for it. There could have been nothing worse than trying to make a speech of this nature while showing any signs of nervousness.

There was a rumble of conversation as the nobles exchanged views for a couple of minutes before one of them stood up.

“I wish to question the Princess.”

The court page announced, “The court recognizes Lord Ripping Talon!”

“Princess Sparkle, you come here promising us much with little but your words to back you up. You claim to have warrior status, but we know nothing of you beyond your words once again. How do you expect us to react to your proposal when we know next to nothing of you?”

Twilight considered his words and replied, “I have been a princess for only a few years, and yet in that time I have fought against many enemies, both by myself and with allies. I am not without experience, but I can understand that many of you would not have heard of any of this. What can I do to convince you that I have earned the title of warrior?”

“Prove it in combat – a duel to settle whether we will accept your status and consider your proposal.”

“I have seen your honor duels, and cannot accept such a challenge. You have no claim on me to demand one, and I have no wish to inflict such harm on you just because of a perceived insult to me.”

There came a lot of scoffing from the audience, and Ripping Talon smiled slyly.

“You think that you would be the one to inflict the harm? I think you’re boasting to cover up your fears. You are no warrior.”

Twilight sneered at him. “You think to either shame me or goad me into a duel? Now who is playing with words? However, I will offer a compromise. I will engage in a demonstration fight with you, and any other griff who seeks to test me. I will seek to disable you with a minimum of harm to prove my point.”

“And what of us? What would you have us achieve to prove us right? A scratch on the cheek? A broken feather?” Ripping Talon mocked.

Twilight shrugged. “Do what you will. Prove that you are more than a blustering fool.”

Ripping Talon scowled. “You will regret that, pony princess.” He turned to the other nobles and asked, “Who else wishes to put this upstart would-be warrior in her place?”

“I do,” one immediately replied, followed rapidly by three more.

Ripping Talon turned back to Twilight. “Five warriors – five chances to prove yourself, princess.”

Twilight shook her head. “I will waste no time fighting five duels. I will fight you all at once. I trust that will settle things once and for all?”

The griffon nobles looked startled by that, but then they laughed uproariously. Ripping Talon just smiled though. “You will pay for your overconfidence, pony.”

King Glimfeather rapped his scepter to draw everyone’s attention. “It is decided! Princess Twilight Sparkle will duel Lord Ripping Talon and his supporters in a demonstration duel. This court will reconvene at the arena in half an hour. Page, advise the arena authorities to open the schedule and prepare for our arrival. Court dismissed!”

Twilight trotted over to where her companions were sitting in the audience section. “Well, what do you think?”

“Just the right amount of griffon noble arrogance in your challenge,” Roseclaw said approvingly.

“Thanks. It’s really not my style, but Warfist convinced me that it was best, and it seems to have worked.”

Path added, “We knew that they would probably challenge you eventually, so shaping it to our advantage was always going to be the best course.”

“Just be careful, Twi,” Free said worriedly. “I just got you back, and I don’t want anything to happen to you now.”

Twilight gave Free a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t worry too much – we’ve got this planned.”

# # #

The group quickly made their way to the arena. The king and his right-claw griff, Silverbeak, were already in the royal box, and the nobles settled into their areas. Free noted with interested that some were making wagers, and briefly considered getting into the action. The thought that Twilight would not approve though quelled that idea.

The master of ceremonies waved to Twilight to come into the arena, and she flew down to the center and calmly stood there, waiting for all the warriors who had challenged her to take up positions around her. When the fifth and last settled to the ground, Twilight spoke up.

“I don’t wish to deprive the king of so many of his best warriors at one time, so I would remind you that as an alicorn, I possess more power than you realize.”

Ripping Talon smirked and replied, “More powerful boasting perhaps.”

Another griffon said, “Rank and species mean nothing in a fight. Prove that you’re a warrior!”

“Then none of you will withdraw?”

Twilight was greeted by stony silence.

“Very well. Let the contest begin.”

The griffons leaped to attack – some from the ground and some in the air. Twilight was ready for them though, and she immediately threw up a magical force bubble around herself as she had planned.

The warriors slowed to a halt.

“Hiding behind a shield? You are no warrior!” Ripping Talon mocked.

Twilight shook her head. “You forget – a shield can be a weapon too.”

In the blink of an eye, she expanded the shield, slamming three of the griffons into the arena wall, and the remaining two into the roof. She immediately retracted the shield to lower the unconscious griffons down to the ground before turning it off.

Twilight bowed to the king and then to the nobles. “I trust that this has been a sufficient demonstration and proof of my claim. I will await your decision on my proposal.” She bowed again to Glimfeather and then flew out of the field to join her friends.

King Glimfeather chuckled and said to Silverbeak, “Five warriors taken out in just seconds, and she was trying not to hurt them too much! These Equestrians continue to amuse me greatly.”

“Do you think that this will placate the more belligerent warriors?” the king’s right claw griff replied.

“Do you recall how not too long ago, my spies reported a fight between Princess Twilight Sparkle and a centaur named Tirek? This monster had stolen all the magic in Equestria, including the flight magic of my spies. A mountain was nearly leveled and a new lake fills a crater that was formed during their fight. If but one of my spies had reported this, I would have called him mad, but they all had similar stories, and the shattered mountain and the crater are there to be seen. Knowing all this, which would you advise – war with Equestria, or the princess’ proposed mutual defense pact?”

“I believe that is a rhetorical question, sire.”

“That’s why you’re second-in-command and not one of those idiots. See to it that the status reductions of these five are posted prominently.”

“At once, Your Majesty!” Silverbeak replied. He never did like Ripping Talon.

# # #

“Magic armor is hardly a new concept,” Twilight told Path.

“This isn’t going to be regular armor, Twilight. Since we signed that pact with Griffonia last month, I’ve been considering ways that we can uphold our part of the deal, and that means being ready to fight. Now I’m not a soldier, so that means taking advantage of my other talent, and what is that? Adapting unicorn magic to earth ponies! I’ve been consulting with Mom about this, and instead of trying to do it all internally, she reckons that it would be best to do it with some form of talisman or power object. There’s no reason why that talisman can’t be armor, and every reason why it would be a good idea to have my battle armor be that power object!”

Twilight nodded thoughtfully. “You make a good point. However, talismans have to be shaped to suit the spell or spells that they are required to augment. There’s a reason why magic wands aren’t more common – they’re just too limited in scope. What are your requirements?”

“Besides the thunderhoof and shield against magic attacks, Mom and I have been working on a few new spells. The biggest priority was a physical shield because I don’t ever want to go through something like that honor duel again without being able to defend myself somehow. Second, because the thunderhoof only works best if it’s a surprise, I needed another offensive technique. Mom reckons that would probably work best if I draw upon the power of the earth as is the earth pony nature, and use a conversion spell to turn it into a form of energy that can be projected. I think that would require a specialized device.”

“An artificial unicorn horn!” Twilight exclaimed. “We could incorporate it into the amour’s helmet, and the conversion talisman into your hoof gauntlets. You would be the instigator and controller of the spells, drawing mana from available sources, converting it, and projecting that energy via the horn. That’s a great idea! Hmm… I’m going to need Techbird’s help, I think. She’s better at the practical application while I’m better with the theory. Now let’s see… I’m going to have to take some readings and measurements of your mana flow, the revised unicorn spells, and the proposed armor materials.”

Twilight’s eyes focused on the unseen equations being written in her head, and Path knew that she was hooked. While his mother had been uncertain of the possibility of achieving his goal, he was confident that once Twilight set her mind to it, it could and would be done. He only hoped that it would never actually have to be used for its intended purpose.

# # #

Path was getting a little tired of all the tests that Twilight had been running on him, but he only had himself to blame. He had set her a complex task, and that required a lot of data. However, this time it gave him the opportunity to ask a semi-related question.

“Streak asked me today if it was possible for him to learn the thunderhoof technique, and I wanted your opinion.”

“On what? Whether you should teach him, or whether it was possible?”

“Er… both, I suppose, although I have already told him the basics.”

Twilight frowned in thought. “Hmmm… I’m not sure if teaching that to such a young colt is a good idea, but on the other hoof, I was already learning some dangerous spells at his age. If you think he’s ready, I won’t object, just as long as you also teach him to be responsible with it. Not that I think that he wouldn’t, but you can’t be too careful with something like that. However, the point may be moot.”

“Huh? Why?” Path asked with a puzzled frown.

“Because of the way he uses mana. He has a very specialized and powerful talent for magically enhancing his speed, but that same talent would likely interfere with other spells. He could in fact be a one-trick pony – an extremely good trick, but limiting him in other ways.”

“He’s going to be disappointed to hear that.”

“I know, but he already can do things that other ponies can’t, so I believe he should be satisfied with that.”

“Me too. He’s young, and he’ll get over it.”

“There’s something that I wanted to ask you too.”

“What’s that?”

“Techbird and I have been making a lot of progress with the new airship design, but we’re running into one major stumbling block – it’s too heavy.”

“What about using aluminum?”

“Hard to produce, very expensive, and not suited to some of the applications.”

“Then what did you want to ask me?”

“I was wondering if in that reservoir of knowledge that you brought from the Green Hive, whether they know of any suitable lightweight materials that could replace some of the heavier ones that we’re currently using?”

“That’s an interesting possibility. Let’s have a session after you’re done with these tests.”

The regular data-sorting sessions that Path had scheduled over the weeks since coming back to Griffonia had largely consisted of her using magical hypnosis techniques to allow Path to focus his concentration on a particular area of the vast cloud of information that he had unwittingly brought out with him from the hive-mind. He was then able to relate that information to Twilight in a coherent and complete manner, and she preserved it in a more accessible way. They had begun to build a small library of reference materials, and yet they had barely scratched the surface of what he subconsciously knew.

This time was slightly different though, in that they were looking for specific information rather than working their way through the mass of knowledge. In a surprisingly short time, they had their answer.

“Of course!” Twilight exclaimed, slapping herself in the face with her hoof. “The answer was staring me in the face all the time!”

“To be fair, it’s been years since you’ve seen it put to use out in the field,” Path tried to mollify her.

“It’s kind of hard to forget how Celestia was encased in that chrysalis. However, the resin that they exude fits the bill perfectly! It’s light, strong, and even flexible up to a point in different types. With that, we can not only meet the weight restrictions, but beat them by a comfortable margin.”

“That’s if we can persuade the changelings to produce a lot of it to meet our needs,” Path pointed out.

“Seeing as I’ll have to go back to Equestria in a few weeks to attend to duties anyway, I’ll take the opportunity to pay a visit to Queen Dianthia and discuss this with her. If she’s not willing, then perhaps one of the other hives might be.”

“It’s certainly worth pursuing. Maybe you can ask it as a favor for Iridia failing to warn you not to eat the emo-gel?”

Twilight shuddered. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’d much rather forget all about that incident, thank you!”

“Yeah, I suppose you would. Still, if any hive would be amenable to cooperation with this, I’d say they would. Anyway, aside from all that, I bet you’re happy that you’ll be getting to see your friends again.”

“Oh yes! And my goddaughters too. I used to see them a lot more often before this all started happening.” She paused and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?”

“I just realized something about my goddaughters. Think about it – Free is my special somepony, and he’s the child of Chrysalis. So is Whirring Cogs, or at least a grandchild, and that makes Dandelion and Fern her great-grandchildren. We’re practically related!”

Path grinned. “You’re not becoming envious of Cogs’ foals, are you?”

Twilight gave him a mock glare. “I’m in no hurry to become a mother, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Why not? Rose has certainly been hinting broadly enough about it lately. I thought you might feel the same.”

“She has? Why hasn’t she asked me for a compatibility spell then?”

Path laughed. “She picked up one while we were in Canterlot.” At Twilight’s startled expression, he said, “Don’t look so surprised; Roseclaw has always known what she has wanted, and has prepared appropriately. There are only two things stopping it from happening – first: she has to go into heat, and second: I have to be willing to become a father.”

“I gather that it’s the latter that’s the real hold-up?”

“Yeah, but she’s been wearing me down. Wanna know what has really been making me think seriously about being a dad? Blue Streak. That colt is a joy to have around, and if he was my son, I’d be enormously proud of him. Heck, I am anyway! I’d love to be able to point him out to ponies though and say, ‘That’s my son’.”

“We all like having him around. He’s always attentive and full of life and laughter. We’re so lucky that we found him before slavery could oppress him.” She paused thoughtfully. “You know, we could always adopt him into the House?”

Path was startled. “We can do that?”

“Why not? He hasn’t got any family other than his aunt who cares for him, and nowadays he spends most of the day with one of us anyway, and even comes to dinner a lot of the time. His aunt is a good and responsible pony, but not really a mother to him. We are already providing more of a family to him than he’s known since the death of his parents. If we adopt him into the House, we can provide even more for him.”

“I think… I like that idea. I’ll ask Rose about it later and hear what she has to say.”

“I’ll mention it to Free also. If we’re going to do this, it should be a unanimous decision. Of course, as Lord of House Path, you could make it a unilateral decision.”

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s just a title. All four of us are the House, or the herd in this case. We all agree on these big decisions, or else they won’t pass.”

“I think that’s wise, but frankly I doubt that you have anything to worry about.”

“Thanks, Twilight. Funny, this started off as a discussion about Streak, and now it’s come back to him again. Maybe I had him more on my mind than I realized?”

“Maybe not that surprising? Did you consider that he might be seeing you as a father-figure, and subconsciously pushing that idea onto you?”

Path gave her a lopsided grin. “Maybe that’s a good thing? If we both have the same idea, I think we might just make it work.”

# # #

A few weeks later, Path stepped into Roseclaw’s office. “Have you got a few minutes to spare, Rose?”

Roseclaw looked up from the reading material that she had been preparing for her students and replied, “I’d be glad to take a break, actually. What’s up?”

“Twilight and I have been studying Streak’s ability. She’s determined that he mostly draws on his magic talent subconsciously, and she believes that if we can get him to draw on it on a more conscious level, he’ll be able to go even faster still. However, we need more data.”

“So where do I come in? He’s already faster than me in a flat race.”

“In a flat race, yes, but we need him to perform far more than just straightforward racing with minor dodging around obstacles. What we want him to do is every possible twist and turn at speed.”

“An obstacle course then?”

“More than that. With a set course, he can plan ahead. We want him to make instant decisions on the run. So what we’d like you to do is play a game of tag with him. You will go through the course while doing your very best to evade him. Make him work his hardest to try to catch you. Maybe we’ll reverse it and have you chase him. Twilight will have some magic monitors on him to track his mana usage and so forth.”

“Sounds exhausting!”

Path put his foreleg around her and gave her a smooch. “You’ve been sitting at a desk too much lately, love. A bit of exercise will do you good.”

Roseclaw prodded him in the side with a talon and replied, “Look who’s talking. I believe you’re putting on weight. At least I have an excuse for that.”

“All the more reason for you to get a bit of exercise,” Path retorted.

Roseclaw grinned. “Let’s do this then.”

# # #

Blue Streak recited the essay that he had written in Equish, while Path listened with a critical ear.

“That’s enough for today, Streak. You’re making good progress with your lessons.”

“Thank you, Lord Path.”

While Blue Streak was an otherwise unexceptional student, he had become determined to be able to speak and read the Equestrian language, and had requested extra lessons. Path had been only too happy to oblige, and he had scheduled tutoring lessons in his den in the afternoons just before dinner. While it was clear that the colt was not ever going to be a linguist, given his poor education before House Path had started teaching the former slaves, his progress had been very satisfactory.

“I’m going to have you practice what you learned at dinner tonight. I want you to speak only Equish if possible. Don’t stress too much over this – it’s only for practice, not a test.”

“Okay.”

“Good. Let’s go eat.”

They were running a few minutes later than usual, which meant that Free, Twilight, and Roseclaw were all in the dining room already before they arrived. Streak greeted them in Equish, and continued to do his best during dinner conversation. Path let him off the hook though as dessert was brought in – a large cake with candles on it – which was placed in front of the colt.

Path smiled at Blue Streak and said, “I found out from your aunt that today you turn eleven years of age. Happy birthday, Streak!”

The others chorused ‘Happy birthday!’ and the colt started grinning from ear to ear.

“Gee, thanks! I’ve never had a birthday cake like this before!”

“Blow out the candles and make a wish,” Twilight urged him.

Streak did so, and Path gave him a knife to cut slices for everyone. As he did so, they started taking out presents from concealment, which they’d had the opportunity to do because Path had deliberately let Streak’s lessons run late. Roseclaw presented hers first.

Streak eagerly opened the box and pulled out a set of shoes with cleats.

“When we were testing you the other day, we noticed a problem that these might help you with,” she said. “They should stop the traction problems that you’ve been having at your super speeds. I asked Techbird to create some special shoes in your size out of lightweight metal, and Twilight enhanced them with spells to make them automatically adjust to different surfaces. I think that you’ll be able to run faster than ever, don’t you?”

“Oh, wow! These are great! Thanks, Lady Roseclaw! You too, Lady Twilight!”

“Don’t forget to thank Techbird later also,” Roseclaw reminded him.

“Don’t worry – I will!”

Free gave him his present next.

“A caste cape?” Streak gaped in awe. “Only important griffs get to wear these.”

“Important ponies can too, and we think you’re very important,” Free replied. “Besides, you might want it when Path gives you his present.”

Streak looked to Path with puzzlement. “Why?”

Path smiled. “I think you’ll figure that out for yourself. My present is a bit different though, and it’s only mine to give because I’m the Lord of House Path, but it’s really from all of us. Streak, we have all grown very fond of you, and I believe that you enjoy spending time with us also. We’ve talked this over between ourselves, and with your aunt too, and we think that this would also be to your greater benefit. You still have the choice to accept it or reject it though. Blue Streak, we wish to formally adopt you into the House of Path. We want to be your new family. I know that we can’t replace your real parents whom you lost so long ago, but we…”

Path got no further because Streak threw himself into a hug with the stallion. “Yes! I want to be your son, Lord Path!” The colt was starting to cry with the strength of his emotions at that moment.

“Phew! What a rush!” Free said as he was a hit with a wave of emotional energy. “Told you he was going to need the cape!”

“Whoa!” Path said with a laugh. “I need those ribs, Streak. And drop the ‘Lord’ now. Since you obviously accept our present, you are now officially family, and you get to call me just Path from now on.”

“Can I call you ‘Dad’ instead?”

Path felt a little choked up at Streak’s ready acceptance of his new status. “I would be proud to be called your father, Streak.”

“And you can call me Mama Sparkle, if you like?” Twilight suggested.

Streak disengaged with Path to give Twilight a hug too. “Thanks, Mama,” he said with a teary smile.

Roseclaw said, “I hope you like being part of the family, because you’re going to be a big brother in a few months.”

“You’re having a foal?” Streak asked.

“A chick, yes. Or maybe a foal after all? How does that work between a griffon and a pony?” she asked nobody in particular. She shrugged. “Anyway, do you think you’ll like that?”

“I’ll be the best big brother; you’ll see!”

“How about us, champ?” Free asked. “We’re still going to be best buddies, right?”

“Yeah! Of course!”

“Then I’m going to let you in on a family secret.” Free looked around to check that none of the staff was present. “Don’t tell anypony or anygriff, but I’m kind of special because I’m only part griffon,” he said in a conspiratorial tone.

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